29-year old Bintoâ€™s excitement knows no bound as he prepares to adorn the red-and-white Santa Claus suit on Tuesday.
Binto is one of the many hundreds of men who will dress up as Santa Claus and participate in a procession in Thrissur -the cultural capital of Kerala- as part of the Buon Natale, a Christmas-New Year celebration.
Organized by the Thrissur Archdiocese in association with Thrissur Pauravali, the event comprises processions, tableaux and other cultural programmes.
However, unlike most of his fellow Santas, Binto will not make the procession by foot, but will do so in his wheelchair. A native of Padavaradu in Thrissur, Binto has suffered from osteoporosis since he was eight.
His brittle bones get fractured too often. Ever since one of his schoolmates pushed him at play in school when he was 12, Binto has been confined to a wheelchair, unable to even continue his studies.
As he puts on the red suit and hat, Binto smiles widely, moving his wheelchair all around. Binto along with around 60 others like him will take part in the procession. They all stay at Punarjeevanam -a Care Home run by Mathew.
The house looks after nearly 130 people who have been left paralyzed following an accident. They are however never addressed as patients or inmates.
Binto has donned the Santa habit for the past two years, and this is his third time. He feels that it a sign of our society being more inclusive.
â€śPeople assume that such a disease confines us within the four walls of our homes. Thatâ€™s not entirely true. For me, there indeed was a time when I would spend days gazing out of my window at home and not step out. But all that changed, once I came here,â€ť he remembers.
For the past eight years, Binto has been at the home receiving care from his fellow humans: â€śIt was after I became confined to the wheelchair that I began to explore my creative side. Sitting at home, I used to make dolls out of cloth. But then again, I realized that my parents were not able to go anywhere because someone had to be always there to take care of me. That is when I decided that I did not want to live such a life. As Christmas Papa, I can now welcome Jesus,â€ť Binto smiles.
Founder Mathew admits it was no easy task for him to let his â€śchildrenâ€ť take part in the procession.
â€śWhen preparations were on for the first event in 2013, I expressed my desire that my children too be allowed to take part in the event. I must say, the organizers were apprehensive at firstâ€¦they had multiple concerns. One was the obvious risk of ensuring their safety in terms of their health. Over and above, they were also wary of how the general public would perceive it,â€ť Mathew says.
51-year old Johny feels that unlike earlier, people -especially the younger generation- are more accepting of people with disabilities in todayâ€™s society. After falling from the terrace of his house in Anchery two years ago, Johny sustained spinal cord injuries that left him paralyzed waist-down.
"I have many a time played the Santa during Christmas celebrations in our Church. It is hence not something that is new to me. Just because we are not as healthy as the others, this does not prevent us from doing things everyone else does. We do not get medical treatment here. All we need is acceptance and care. We make it a point to be always doing something or the other. We even go out to watch moviesâ€¦ as part of physiotherapy," he grins.
For 46-year old Ajith who has been at the home for just a month, being Santa is just another way to make others happy.
"Like always, I have not thought about the deeper meaning or consequences of my act. I'm doing this for others, thatâ€™s all" says Ajith, who sustained spinal cord injuries 15 years ago.
(All photographs by KK Najeeb)